Cheltenham Town Hall, Cheltenham Jazz Festival
Reviewed by JJ Wheeler
When somebody not only blessed with the company of, but also a close musical associate of, John Coltrane comes to town, you can’t help but expect great things. Thus, the atmosphere at Cheltenham’s ornate Town Hall was thick with anticipation, sensing an opportunity to behold a piece of Coltrane’s legacy through the man who has famously made it his life’s work to honour him.
There were undoubtedly moments of inspiration from the 71-year-old, particularly on My Favourite Things, on which he sounded like Coltrane one moment, then Sanders the next; a fine blend of homage to his legendary friend and his own personal contribution to proceedings.
Unfortunately, it is one of life’s many joys that as one grows older, the body often grows weary quicker and becomes unable to perform tasks in the manner it used to. This was the case here, with Sanders taking very little solo opportunity, instead leaving the local pick-up rhythm section of Jonathan Gee (piano), Mark Hodgson (bass) and Gene Calderazzo (drums) to fill out the rest of the set with long, often exhaustive solos. Although all marvellously competent on the selection of standard repertoire, each contributing a performance worthy of ovation, I personally felt this was not a platform on which any of the superbly talented sidemen could truly shine. Certainly having previously been spellbound by separate performances from Hodgson and Calderazzo with other projects, I came away feeling a little sorry for them, despite their undeniably solid performances.
It wasn’t that anyone let the side down, more that something didn’t seem to click. Perhaps this was due to the lack of rehearsal, lack of group cohesion (having, to my knowledge, never played together before as a band) or even the desperately disappointing sound, apparent in the audience, but obviously even more so onstage, with Sanders refusing to solo until monitoring problems had been rectified. In fact, it was probably a combination of the three.
Who knows, maybe on another night we might have witnessed history. Nonetheless, it was worth it, just for the momentary glimpses of true brilliance on My Favourite Things.